Not an Asterisk

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WHEN IT WAS conceived about a year ago, the idea of grouping the 2008 primaries in the District, Maryland and Virginia into a same-day Chesapeake Primary (lately rechristened the Potomac Primary) was received with ridicule, yawns and eye-rolling. Since the presidential nominees would surely be anointed on Super Tuesday a week earlier, a cluster of votes on Feb. 12 might as well be called the Asterisk Primary, said detractors. But the Chesapeake Primary's advocates -- chiefly, Terry Lierman, then chairman of Maryland's Democratic Party -- persisted. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Except this year it's no cliche. Today's primaries really are history, and not only because the four remaining candidates include, on the Democratic side, a woman and an African American. For the first time in memory, major presidential contenders have blitzed the mid-Atlantic region, staying for days, not hours, and duking it out for all to see. If ever a voter were in doubt about voting, the stakes today should provide plenty of impetus to get to the polls.

The reason is no mystery, for the prize is considerable. On the Democratic side, the District plus the two states will send 240 delegates to the national convention this summer, about 12 percent of the number needed to win. On the Republican side, 119 delegates are at stake, 10 percent of the minimum for victory. With numbers like those, and with the Democratic race in particular so tight, it's little wonder that the candidates, their spouses, surrogates, allies and volunteers have barnstormed the region, impeded only by a windstorm that prevented one of them, Sen. Barack Obama, from flying into Roanoke yesterday.

What they have seen is a dazzlingly diverse region that is in many ways a highly representative geographic and demographic microcosm of America: rural and urban areas; suburbs and exurbs; terrific wealth and grave poverty; beaches and ski resorts; mountains to the west, an ocean to the east and fresh water in between; the heart of the Old Confederacy (Virginia), a border state (Maryland) and, in the case of the District, Richmond and Baltimore, biggish cities brimming with problems and promise.

It's also primary day for some congressional and local candidates in Maryland, and The Post has made endorsements in three Democratic congressional primaries. We favor Donna F. Edwards in the 4th District, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in the 5th and Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the 8th. In Montgomery County, we favor Phil Kauffman in the five-way race for school board.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company